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Time is now for Penn State senior DT Jones

| Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, 11:06 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State defensive tackle DaQuan Jones sacks Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen during the fourth quarter of the season opener Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

UNIVERSITY PARK — DaQuan Jones wasn't lacking in motivation to have a dominant senior season.

If he had any doubts, he had no shortage of believers inside the Penn State locker room.

“DaQuan Jones could be one of the best defensive tackles in the nation,” safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said.

“I have no doubts at all that he's going to have a great season,” offensive tackle Garry Gilliam said.

“He's powerful, He's strong. He's smart, and he works extremely hard,” coach Bill O'Brien said.

“(Defensive line coach Larry Johnson) always has been telling me,” Jones said, “that this is my time.”

Armed with that confidence, Jones has done everything he could to ensure it comes to fruition. After spending three years in the shadows of future NFL players Devin Still and Jordan Hill, Jones had a 2013 debut that showed he's likely to join his former teammates in playing on Sundays in the future.

Judging by 2014 mock drafts, Jones is viewed as an early-round pick and one of the top defensive tackles available. More games such as the team-high nine-tackle (eight solo), one-sack, three-tackles-for-loss performance he had against Syracuse last week, and his stock figures only to rise.

That's exactly what Jones envisioned when he set out on improving himself over the past offseason.

“Going into my last year, I knew I could make a difference so I can support my family after school,” Jones said. “I had to think of my family and know that it's my time to shine.”

To prove it, Jones heeded everything O'Brien and Johnson asked of him in preparing for his senior year. That meant bypassing his beloved deep-fried wings in favor of a more-rounded diet featuring fish and vegetables.

The result? About 25 pounds melted off his 6-foot-3 frame. A leaner and meaner Jones is a more slippery matchup for opposing interior linemen — yet he still managed to maintain a weight upwards of 310 pounds and add muscle.

“We felt like if he lost weight he would be quicker and more explosive because he could lose weight and gain strength,” O'Brien said. “And he went out and did it.

“He's a fantastic kid. You talk about a guy that's overcome the odds in the classroom and overcome the odds on the football field. He's a great kid to coach, one of the leaders of our football team.”

Jones said he learned from Still and Hill, who were second- and third-round picks by the Bengals and Seahawks, respectively, in the past two drafts.

“But I want to be known for who I am,” Jones said. “I didn't come here to live in anybody's shadow. I really respect both of them. But at the same time, I have a game I can bring to the table, and I want to show that.”

Performing on the field might be the easy part for Jones. Over the past year, he has gotten his weight and his academics in order — both, he said, were “struggles.” But Jones finally saw results in each.

Now the Lions are seeing the results; Jones is occupying blockers and racking up tackles.

“He understands that this is his year and he needs to go out and ball every single game,” Gilliam said. “I saw his mindset over the offseason and in preseason camp. It's not an issue whether he can do it or not — it's just him deciding to do it every single play.”

Note: Penn State's undefeated 1973 team, including Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti, will be honored at halftime Saturday.

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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